The Story of the Original Bill Nye: "The Funny Guy"


Doubtless you're all familiar with Bill Nye The Science Guy, the PBS television host who's show was "known for its quirky humor and rapid-fire MTV-style pacing". While his moniker served to brand him as a very specific type of lovable nerd, it also helped to differentiate him from the original Bill Nye. That's right, the Bill Nye you know and love is not the first!

Edgar Wilson "Bill" Nye was an American humorist author living in Wyoming in the late 1800s. He founded and edited The Laramie Boomerang. The newspaper was named after his mule, Boomerang, named such "because he could trust the mule to return him home no matter how inebriated and disoriented Nye might become." After the newspaper, he wrote a couple books with the famed writer/poet James Whitcomb Riley, as well as a fair number of satire books on his own.

The most famous Nye title is inarguably Bill Nye's Comic History of the United States which is still worth a read even today. 

Such notable excerpts include his description of the establishment of the original 13 colonies:

This chapter is given up almost wholly to facts. It deals largely with the beginning of the thirteen original colonies from which sprang the Republic, the operation of which now gives so many thousands of men in-door employment four years at a time, thus relieving the penitentiaries and throwing more kindergarten statesmen to the front.

It was during this epoch that the Cavaliers landed in Virginia and the Puritans in Massachusetts; the latter lived on maple sugar and armed prayer, while the former saluted his cow, and, with bared head, milked her with his hat in one hand and his life in the other.

Immigration now began to increase along the coast. The Mayflower began to bring over vast quantities of antique furniture, mostly hall-clocks for future sales. Hanging them on spars and masts during rough weather easily accounts for the fact that none of them have ever been known to go.


In another twist of fate, this Bill Nye actually wasn't the first either. Note how his name was really Edgar? That's because he stole the name Bill Nye from a character in "The Heathen Chinee", a narrative poem by American writer Bret Harte:

"The narrative of the poem focuses on a Chinese immigrant character named Ah Sin who is playing the card game euchre with two white men on August 3 of an unspecified year. "Truthful James", one of the men who narrates the poem, observes that the other white man, Bill Nye, is cheating with a stacked deck and cards up his sleeve. They both seemed to think Ah Sin was childlike and did not understand the game. Nevertheless, Ah Sin plays well and soon puts down the same card that Nye had dealt to the narrator. Thinking their opponent is cheating, Nye fights Ah Sin and discovers he has several decks hidden in his clothes."

So Bill Nye The Cheating Guy begat Bill Nye The Funny Guy who...probably did not beget Bill Nye The Science Guy but does happen to have a very similar name. The more you know.

An illustration from "Bill Nye's Comic History of the United States" that hasn't stood the test of time quite as well.

An illustration from "Bill Nye's Comic History of the United States" that hasn't stood the test of time quite as well.

The full text of Bill Nye's Comic History of the United States is available for free on Project Gutenberg if you're interested in reading more.